An 82-Year-Old Japanese Audiophile Searches for the Best Sound by Installing His Own Electric Utility Pole in His Yard

As a longtime record collector (first because it was before CDs were invented) and a budding audiophile (because vinyl does sound better than digital, have at me in the comments if you must), I appreciate a good story about the search for perfect sound. But Takeo Morita takes it to a new level.

In the Wall Street Journal story above, we learn that the 82-year-old has installed a 42-foot utility pole next to his house. Why? To get that clean electricity to his system, not that shared, filthy electricity from a common-as-muck utility pole. Electricity is like blood, he explains, and the cleaner the blood, the better for the system.

Now this reminds me, while we’re here, to tell you about a show I once saw on Japanese TV and which I one day hope to see on YouTube. A news show profiled Japan’s number one Bob Dylan collector, who had every vinyl release of the musician, even to redundancy. At one point he pulled out an album still in its shrink wrap that was no different from the one next to it. “This has a green sticker on it,” he said, pointing to the right hand corner. “But that’s just a sticker,” said the host. Blank stare. Pause. “But this has a green sticker on it.”

That’s the spirit, I thought.

Also: Never catch that spirit, I thought.

This article at explores the world of Tokyo’s audiophile underground, which is both a logical outcome for those into hearing the best music systems and something quintessentially Japanese. I can’t imagine an audiophile bar opening up in the States anytime soon. But the listening venue has a long history in Japan:

It can be traced back to the rise of jazz kissa (jazz cafés) and meikyoku kissa (classical music cafés) in the years following World War II, a time when imported records were prohibitively expensive. This meant that, for many people, the kissaten were the only places to hear good music from abroad. The focus at these cafés was on deep, concentrated listening.

As the article mentions, there are as many mini clubs in Tokyo as there are genres, from classical to drone/glitch. And it comes down to the idea, started by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, of “The Third Place,” the place that is neither home, nor work:

As civilization has advanced, going to work and back home has become our routine as humans,” Ariizumi says. “The third place is not quite home, and it’s not work, but a community where everyone can be welcomed and relax, with a nice atmosphere. I heard about the term ‘third place’ for the first time just when we opened Bridge, and I remember thinking, ‘This is exactly what I want to create.’ That’s what I want to do, create a third space. People can come here and talk about their jobs or their love life, or they can come here and dance. It’s a place between work and home. People need that.

Question is, dear reader: do you have a third space?

Related content:

How Steely Dan Wrote “Deacon Blues,” the Song Audiophiles Use to Test High-End Stereos

How Good Are Your Headphones? This 150-Song Playlist, Featuring Steely Dan, Pink Floyd & More, Will Test Them Out
The Distortion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Created “a McDonald’s Generation of Music Consumers”

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (12)
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  • joesixpack says:

    Typical audiophile; Do something expensive and showy which has zero effect on the quality of your system, then claim to be able to hear an improvement. I’m sure he has Monster Cables as well.

    The people who do this sort of crap are generally the least knowledgable of electronics and even simple phyics. This story doesn’t belong here, it’s not culture, it’s conspicuous consumption being passed off as devotion to music. The king is naked. The money would hae been better spent on an intro to pysics class at the local junior college.

  • Donalev Trumpski says:

    Or learning how to spell physics.

  • joesixpack says:

    LOL, I got it wrong twice. Effing fat fingers.

  • Ken Wright says:

    Lots of tests have been done with groups of people who have not been able to identify between cd quality streaming and vinyl music. Not that it matters one jot. Get the best you can afford sit back and enjoy the only thing that matters. The music.

  • Fred says:

    I’ve listened to high end audio and it does sound fantastic. I’ve never compared vinyl records vs CD so I can’t comment on that. What I will say, is that vinyl wears out and it gets to the point that pops and skips just become too annoying. Also, lots of the music I buy is not available on vinyl, some is not even available on CD for that matter. Lastly and most importantly I can’t invest thousands of dollars in equipment for the few hours a month that I sit down and seriously listen to music.

  • jojo says:

    Your critic of audiophile becomes very common amongst frustrated guys who cannot afford a correct system,and cannot make the difference between two wines. You guy want to measure to compensate for your insecurity.

  • Mark Alfson says:

    I’ll partially bite: why do you feel/believe vinyl sounds better than digital?

  • Ted Mills says:

    Seeings this is getting some recent reposting traction, and because I did say “have at me,” I’ll defend vinyl with some caveats: music that was originally recorded, mastered, and pressed for vinyl (1950s thru 1990s, I’d say) sounds better on a decent vinyl system, especially if there are very few steps between the original tape and the pressing. A lot of audiophile stuff is woo-woo, for sure, and nothing really makes a record sound as good as it does after smoking a joint (or your intoxicant of choice).

    So the question of “vinyl vs CD” (and these days vs high digital streaming) is very reductionist. Things don’t sound better *because* they are on vinyl. A Brazilian LP pressing of a Beatles album won’t sound better than a US or UK CD of same.

    Listening to analog created music on an analog system is a bit like looking at a landscape. Listening to a digital version of same, even in high quality, is like looking at high quality photo of same. Same objects, just flatter. That’s how I hear it.

    However, modern digital production doesn’t sound *that good* on vinyl. Some of it sounds very dead or flat, and I’m sure there are several reasons for this (lack of specialized mastering, care, etc when it comes to the vinyl, etc.).

  • Mike Van In says:

    I call bulldust on the “vinyl is better” assertion. It’s worse and can easily be demonstrated with a blind test. It’s actually more of a pretension than those who claim that valve amps have a “warmer” sound. Pure affectation, again, easily demonstrable with a blind test.

    What is depressing is that people, who should know better, will defend their illusions just through pride. I once made some excellent coffee with cream, at work, and gave it a boost of Scotch. I handed it to a Scottish lady who liked her tipple, but I said to her, “Just taste this and tell me if the cream is going off.”

    You guessed it! She said it was really sour! But the kicker is that once I told her that it was fresh cream, but had Scotch in it, SHE REFUSED TO BELIEVE ME – and then she got genuinely furious with me because I nearly died laughing!

    Same as the “audiophiles” who make these indefensibly dumb declarations. Every one of them will hear differences in music sources, as long as you DON’T tell them you’ve been playing a single source all along. Silly, harmless, laughable, clots! I’m not going to argue with that breed.

  • Mike Van In says:

    As for that aged Japanese clown, wanting his own utility pole, he could have got a 500% cleaner supply by simply running his domestic power through a rolled up 50 meter extension chord. He’s too ignorant to know that you can buy mains filters anywhere in the civilised world. This is only mentioned because the music equipment he chose is obviously super-cheap rubbish that has a pathetic power supply board for the electronics.

    A hopeless fool, soon parted with his money, as he proverbially deserves.

  • Marcus says:

    Whew. The comments here have saved me from signing up to read interesting things on topics new to me. Such hostility, so dismissive. “I’m right and everybody else is stupid”. I can get this kind of commentary, simultaneously superior and ignorant , just about anywhere. No thanks.

  • Jared Lee Brandon says:

    There’s a fairly simple explanation as to why vinyl can sound better. Vinyl is physically capable of rendering frequencies beyond what a digital source (CD, DVD, digital tape) can reproduce. The accepted range of human hearing is 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, so that is the hard range of digital audio. But vinyl can reproduce sounds outside that range. And though many of us cannot necessarily hear those frequencies (note, I said “most of us” because some can), we can perceive them through their harmonic influence upon the frequencies we can hear. Those perceived frequencies add richness and dimension to the auditory experience. The limit of this is when the source audio being pressed to vinyl is coming from digital (as in new music or remastered music) it’s very likely going to be limited to that digital frequency range. In that case, it really doesn’t make much difference whether it’s on vinyl or not. But I’d be willing to bet that if you listened only to a truly analog recording of a song on vinyl for an extended period of time, and then switched to a digital version, you would feel that something was missing.

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